The Female Stranger

During the fall of 1816 in Alexandria Virginia two people, a man and his wife walked into the Gadsby’s Tavern Hotel. (Below) The woman was ill and it was thought she was suffering from Typhoid fever. 

The woman’s condition continued to deteriorate despite being attended by one of Alexandria’s doctors. The husband then summoned the doctor and hotel staff and even the owner’s wife to the room to ask a very unusual request: He asked that everyone present swear an oath never to reveal their identities. All agreed and each took the secret to the grave. Several days after the oath was taken the Female Stranger died and to this day no one knows their identity. 

Before disappearing, her husband commissioned an extravagant headstone and buried her at St. Paul’s Cemetery in Alexandria Virginia.

The engraving on the headstone reads:

To the Memory of a
whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 14th day of October 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months.
This stone is placed here by her disconsolate
Husband in whose arms she sighed out her
latest breath and who under God
did his utmost even to soothe the cold
dead ear of death.
How loved how valued once avails thee not
To whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
Tis all thou art and all the proud shall be
To him gave all the Prophets witness that
through his name whosoever believeth in
him shall receive remission of sins.
Acts.10th Chap.43rd verse

(From “Famous mysteries. 1919.”)  "Our account of the mysterious and dramatic happenings to which this unknown woman's death came as a tragic denouement must commence upon the 25th day of July, in the year 1816, when the brig "Four Sons," bound from Halifax to the West Indies, diverted her course to enter the Potomac and anchor off Alexandria. She remained just long enough to lower a boat and send ashore a man and a sick woman. When the small boat pulled up at the wharf it was seen that the invalid had on a thick veil, which, in spite of the heat of that mid-summer day, she continued to wear while being carried through the streets to The Bunch of Grapes, the largest tavern in the city. After engaging the best room that the hostelry afforded, the anxious husband—as he described himself—hurriedly sent for a physician, who was, however, before being admitted to the sickroom, called aside and pledged upon his honor not to reveal what he might see or learn concerning his patient. The physician's lips were sealed until his death, and the only information concerning his patient which could ever be obtained from him was that he had never seen her face."

A popular (though very improbable) local story in Alexandria, Virginia, suggests that Theodosia Burr Alston may have been the Mysterious Female Stranger who died in Alexandria at Gadsby's Tavern on October 14, 1816.

Theodosia Burr Alston (June 21, 1783 – probably January 2 or 3, 1813) was the daughter of Theodosia Bartow Prevost and the controversial U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr.
She was born in Albany, New York but was raised mostly in New York City. Her education was very closely supervised by her father who stressed mental discipline. This type of tutoring was very rarely given to girls of Theodosia's generation. In addition to the more conventional subjects such as French (the French textbook by Martel, Martel's Elements, published by Van Alen in New York in 1796, is dedicated to Theodosia), music, and dancing, the young "Theo" began to study arithmetic, Latin, Greek, and English composition. She applied herself to English in the form of letters to Aaron Burr, which were returned to her promptly, with the inclusion of detailed criticism.

When Theodosia was 10, her mother died. After this event her father closely supervised his daughter's social education. Specifically this included training in an appreciation of the arts and the intangibles of relating to other people. By the age of 14 Theodosia began to serve as hostess at Richmond Hill, Aaron Burr's stately home in what is now Greenwich Village. Once when Burr was away in 1797 his daughter presided over a dinner for Joseph Brant, Chief of the Six Nations. On this occasion she invited Dr. Hosack, Dr. Bard, and the Bishop of New York, among other notables.

On February 2, 1801 she married Joseph Alston, a wealthy land owner and politician from South Carolina. They honeymooned at Niagara Falls, the first recorded couple to do so. Alston was governor of South Carolina and possessed a large rice plantation. It has been conjectured that there was more than romance involved in this union. Aaron Burr agonized intensely and daily about money matters, particularly as to how he would hold on to the Richmond Hill estate. It is thought that his daughter's tie to a member of the Southern gentry might relieve him of some of his financial burdens. The marriage to Alston meant that Theodosia would become prominent in South Carolina social circles. Her letters to her father indicated that she had formed an affectionate alliance with Joseph. The couple's son, Aaron Burr Alston, was born in 1802.

Following the baby's birth, Theodosia's health became fragile. She made trips to Saratoga, New York and Ballston Spa in an effort to restore her health. She also visited her father and accompanied him to Ohio in the summer of 1806, along with her son. There Aaron met with an Irishman, Harman Blennerhassett, who had an island estate in the Ohio River in what is now West Virginia. The two men made plans to form a western empire, which was later joined by General James Wilkinson. Burr and Wilkinson were rumored to be plotting to separate Louisiana and parts of the western United States from America; the veracity of this claim, with Burr becoming a "kinglike" figure of the separated lands, was never proven.

In the spring of 1807, Aaron Burr was arrested for treason. During his trial in Richmond, Virginia, Theodosia was with him, providing comfort and support. He was acquitted of the charges against him but left for Europe, where he remained for a period of four years. While he was in exile, Theodosia acted as his agent in America, raising money, which she sent to her father, and transmitting messages. Theodosia wrote letters to Secretary of State Albert Gallatin and to Dolley Madison in an effort to secure a smooth return for Aaron. He returned to New York in July 1812 but his daughter could not quickly join him. Her son had succumbed to a fever and died on June 30 and the anguish involved nearly killed Theodosia. She had to wait until December before she could make the journey. With her husband unable to accompany her, her father sent Timothy Green, an old friend, to accompany her on the trip north. Green possessed some medical knowledge.

On December 31, 1812, Theodosia sailed aboard the schooner Patriot from Georgetown, South Carolina. The Patriot was a famously fast sailer, which had originally been built as a pilot boat, and had served as a privateer during the War of 1812, when it was commissioned by the United States government to prey on English shipping. She had been refitted in December in Georgetown, her guns dismounted and hidden below decks. Her name was painted out and any indication of recent activity was entirely erased. The schooner's captain, William Overstocks, desired to make a rapid run to New York with his cargo, and it is likely that she was laden with the proceeds from her raids.

The Patriot and all those on board were never heard from again.

Following the Patriot's disappearance, rumors immediately arose. The most enduring was that the Patriot had been captured by the pirates Dominique You or "The Bloody Babe"; or something had occurred near Cape Hatteras, notorious for its wreckers.
Her father refused to credit any of the rumors of her possible capture, believing that she had died in shipwreck, but the rumors persisted long after his death and after around 1850 more substantial "explanations" of the mystery surfaced, usually alleging to be from the deathbed confessions of sailors and executed criminals.

One story which was considered somewhat plausible was that the Patriot had fallen prey to the wreckers known as the Carolina "bankers". The bankers populated the sandbank islands near Nags Head, North Carolina, pirating wrecks and murdering both passengers and crews. When the sea did not serve up wrecks for their plunder, they lured ships onto the shoals. On stormy nights the bankers would hobble a horse, tie a lantern around the animal's neck, and walk it up and down the beach. Sailors at sea could not distinguish the bobbing light they saw from that of a ship which was anchored securely. Often they steered toward shore to find shelter. Instead they became wrecked on the banks, after which their crews and passengers were murdered. In relation to this, a Mr. J.A. Elliott of Norfolk, Virginia made a statement in 1910 that in the early part of 1813, the dead body of a young woman "with every indication of refinement" had been washed ashore at Cape Charles, and had been buried on her finder's farm.

Writing in the Charleston News and Courier, Foster Haley claimed that documents he had discovered in the State archives in Mobile, Alabama, said that the Patriot had been captured by a pirate vessel captained by John Howard Payne and that every person on board had been murdered by the pirates including "a woman who was obviously a noblewoman or a lady of high birth". However, Haley never identified or cited the documents he had supposedly found.

The most romantic legend concerning Theodosia's fate involves piracy and a Karankawa Indian chief on the Texas Gulf Coast. The earliest American settlers to the Gulf Coast testified of a Karankawa warrior wearing a gold locket inscribed "Theodosia." He had claimed that after a terrible storm, he found a ship wrecked at the mouth of the San Bernard River. Hearing a faint cry, he boarded the hulk and found a white woman, naked except for the gold locket, chained to a bulkhead by her ankle. The woman fainted on seeing the Karankawa warrior, and he managed to pull her free and carry her to the shore. When she revived she told him that she was the daughter of a great chief of the white men, who was misunderstood by his people and had to leave his country. She gave him the locket and told him that if he ever met white men he was to show them the locket and tell them the story, and then died in his arms.

Another myth about her fate traces its origin to Charles Etienne Arthur Gayarre's novel Fernando de Lemos: Truth and Fiction: A Novel (1872). Gayarre devoted one chapter to a confession by the pirate Dominique You. In Gayarre's story You admitted having captured the Patriot after he discovered it dismasted off Cape Hatteras following a storm. You and his men murdered the crew, while Theodosia was made to walk the plank: "She stepped on it and descended into the sea with graceful composure, as if she had been alighting from a carriage," Gayarre wrote in You's voice. "She sank, and rising again, she, with an indescribable smile of angelic sweetness, waved her hand to me as if she meant to say: 'Farewell, and thanks again'; and then sank forever."

 Because Gayarre billed his novel as a mixture of "truth and fiction" there was popular speculation about whether his account of You's confession might be real, and the story entered American folklore.

 The American folklorist Edward Rowe Snow later put together an account in Strange Tales from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras incorporating the Gayarre story with later offshoots; for example, on February 14, 1903, one Mrs. Harriet Sprague issued a sworn statement before Notary Freeman Atwell, of Cass County, Michigan claiming to corroborate the details of You's confession in Gayarre's 1872 novel. Mrs. Sprague described the contents of an 1848 confession by pirate Frank Burdick, an alleged shipmate of You when the Patriot was discovered. The pirates left most of Alston's clothing untouched, as well as a portrait of Alston. Later, "wreckers" (locals known for rifling stranded vessels in often-criminal fashion) discovered the deserted Patriot and one of them carried the painting and clothing ashore, giving it to a female suitor. Years later, a physician caring for the now-elderly woman noticed the unusually expensive oil painting in the Nag's Head shack and it was supposedly 
confirmed to have belonged to the Alston family. The detail of the painting in Mrs. Sprague's story appears to be derived from a separate legend that first appeared in print in 1878.
 In 1869, Dr. William G. Pool treated Mrs. Polly Mann for an ailment; in payment she gave him a portrait of a young woman which she claimed her first husband had discovered on board a wrecked ship during the War of 1812. Pool became convinced the portrait was of Theodosia Burr Alston, and contacted members of her family, some of whom agreed, though Pool conceded "they cannot say positively if it was her."

 None of them had ever seen Theodosia in life. The only person who had actually known Theodosia that Pool contacted was Mary Alston Pringle, Theodosia's sister-in-law. To his disappointment, she could not recognize the painting as one of Theodosia.

A less romantic analysis of the known facts has led some scholars to conclude that the Patriot was probably wrecked by a storm off Cape Hatteras. Logbooks from the blockading British fleet report a severe storm which began off the Carolina coast in the afternoon of January 2, 1813, and continued into the next day. James L. Michie, an archaeologist from South Carolina, by studying its course has concluded that the Patriot was likely just north of Cape Hatteras when the storm was at its fiercest. "If the ship managed to escape this battering, which continued until midnight," he has said, "it then faced near hurricane-force winds in the early hours of Sunday. Given this knowledge, the Patriot probably sank between 6 p.m. Saturday [January 2] and 8 a.m. Sunday [January 3]."

New England: Henry Brooks Adams and Grief

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The age of chivalry has gone;

 “The age of chivalry has gone; the age of humanity has come.” Charles Sumner

“The true grandeur of humanity is in moral elevation, sustained, enlightened and decorated by the intellect of man.” Charles Sumner

Charles Sumner 1855 BPL-crop.jpg

Charles Sumner was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts (1851-74) and was prominent during the Civil War era. He was born in January of 1811 in Boston. He attended the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard in 1839 and Harvard Law in 1834.  He was a protégé of Joseph Story (who served on the US Supreme Court). He was also a member of the Porcellian Club (An interesting organization, by the way). An avid abolitionist, he refused compromise on the issue of equal rights for blacks. In 1855, Sumner read an intemperate speech, "The Crime Against Kansas” in which he condemned his opponents, including South Carolina's Senator Andrew P. Butler. Two days later, on May 22, Preston Brooks, Butler's nephew, and a congressman from South Carolina, entered the senate chamber. With him were two goons, Laurence M. Keitt and Henry Edmundson. Brooks said, "Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine." As Sumner, who was six feet and four inches tall, began to stand up, Brooks began beating Sumner severely on the head with a thick cane with a gold head. Sumner was trapped under the heavy desk (which was bolted to the floor), but Brooks continued to bash Sumner until he ripped the desk from the floor. By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood, and he staggered up the aisle and collapsed, lapsing into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat Sumner until he broke his cane, and then quietly left the chamber. Several other senators attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Keitt who was holding a pistol and shouting, "Let them be!" Brooks was a hero to his constituency and was re-elected. Sumner took three years to recover from the beating. He suffered from serious head trauma, severe headaches and stress.

 File:Southern Chivalry.jpg

Nike missile was fired over the Washington area in the spring' of 1955

By PATRICIA SULLIVAN Washington Post Staff Writer

   Chester Joswick, 79, an Army warrant officer who was on duty when a Nike missile was accidental­ly fired over the Washington area in the spring'of1955, died Feb. 7 at Laurel Regional Hospital. He lived in Laurel. The cause of death is pending an investigation by the Maryland medical examiner's office.

     The launch of a fully armed, su­personic Nike-guided missile in the early years of the Cold War caused a sen­sation. Front-page stories in Wash­ington, Baltimore and New York papers dubbed it a "rogue" and "runaway" missile. Soldiers clad in hazardous-material moon suits de­scended on the new Baltimore­ Washington Parkway to cart off fragments of the rocket housing. .

A Barbersville housewife reported seeing the missile go past her kitchen window, making a "whis­tling noise" and looking "like a f1ash of lightning." The Army, which originally said the Nike Ajax missile exploded in the air, let sev­eral days pass before clarifying that the warhead did not detonate.

     Mr. Joswick, then the assistant launcher platoon leader for Battery C of the 36th antiaircraft battalion, was stationed at Fort Meade that rainy April 14, 1955. His unit was raising the rocket launcher at mid­day, part of a routine training exer­cise. The launcher was not fully up­right when the booster rocket fired, sending the missile zooming into the sky. The booster separated and fell on a trailer park. Fuel tank frag­ments tumbled onto the parkway. The missile's nose section was found 500 yards from the launcher with the guidance assembly still at­tached.

     Mr. Joswick and most of the launch crew were in an under­ground room when the missile took off. Sgt. Stanley C. Kozak of Allen­town, Pa., was standing seven feet away and sustained minor burns when he was caught in the rocket's flareback. "Because no launch was intend­ed, the pin of the launcher's for­ward yoke support had not been re­moved," wrote military historian Merle T. Cole in a 2001 article in the Anne Arundel County History News. "As the pin had not been re­moved, the yoke remained in place when the Ajax took off, tearing out .the No. 3 Tunnel or fairing strip covering essential wiring on the I M. missile's side. This damage ren­dered the missile warheads inoper­ative and prevented an explosion."

     The cause of the launch was found to be a short circuit caused by rain getting into an electrical junction box. Mr. Joswick told Cole that al­though the board of inquiry ab­solved his unit, the battalion com­mander was relieved of his duties.

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